Comedian Punkie Johnson Opens Up About Being the First Out Black Queer Woman on Saturday Night Live
Punkie Johnson is still reeling after making history as the first out Black queer woman to be cast on Saturday Night Live.
Johnson wrapped her first season on the show in May, and while she is not the first Black queer person to star in the show, her predecessor Danitra Vance was not publicly out when she appeared on SNL in the 1980s.
"It wasn't even a dream because I never thought that I would get there. That's how surprised I was," Johnson said in an interview with NBC News. "I'm just this little lesbian chick from New Orleans who is just enjoying life doing comedy and thinking that's it."
Like many, Johnson was hit hard by the pandemic. A seasoned comedian with several high-profile credits, including Netflix's Space Force and HBO's A Black Lady Sketch Show, she admitted that she still relied on "a deal with God and the universe" this past year to know if comedy was her path.
"I was like, 'If I get this job, that means that I'm supposed to do comedy,'" she said of auditioning for SNL.
After two rounds of taped auditions and dozens of celebrity impressions, Johnson received a call from SNL creator Lorne Michaels, telling her: "We think you'll be a good addition to the cast."
So, the former New Orleans bartender joined the iconic show — and the rest is, literally, history. Upon arriving in New York City, she found some messages from her mother that were tucked among her luggage.
The notes read: "I can't believe you did it. I'm so proud of you." Another said: "Now you're one step closer to paying me back for giving you life."
Johnson may not be sure what's in store for her career, but she knows that comedy is "where I feel at home."
RELATED VIDEO: Kate McKinnon Says Saturday Night Live 'Changed My Life'
The NBC sketch comedy show aired its final episode of season 46 on May 23 with Anya Taylor-Joy hosting and Lil Nas X as the musical guest. To mark the season finale, the entire SNL cast appeared during the episode's cold open and reflected on completing 20 episodes amid the COVID pandemic.
The cast members all went on to share how they bonded during the season, with Pete Davidson saying, "The main thing was that we were in it together. Everyone was there for each other no matter what."
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Kenan Thompson added, "Mostly we remember how lucky were to have a job at a time when so many people were out of work."
"This was the year we realized we are more than just a cast," added Kate McKinnon, who began to get choked up. "We are a family."